Monday, April 20, 2015

Rally round the flag, boys?

If you are thinking of retiring in the United States any time soon, be very, very careful where you decide to live!

So say the people at Yahoo, who published a few days ago a list of the 10 worst U.S. states in which to retire in 2015, along with reasons.

I don’t know how much credence we can give to the people at Yahoo when one of the places isn’t even a state, but the list is interesting. I especially liked the beautiful renditions of the flags included that represent the 10 places named, and I’m not even a vexillologist.

Speaking of vexillology, Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama of Fiji announced on 3 February that his country will change its flags, saying, “The competition and the formation of the National Panel will commence during this month of February. The competition will be open for two months. And the whole selection process has been designed so that we will be ready to hoist our new flag on the 45th anniversary of our Independence – October the 10th, 2015.”

Here is Fiji’s current flag:


Don’t look now, but today is 20 April, so it is too late to enter the contest. Sorry, vexillologists.

Let me state for the record that Fiji is not one of the 50 U.S. states or even one of President Obama’s 57 states. It is an island nation in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

To see Yahoo’s list of the 10 worst U.S. states in which to retire in 2015, the reasons, and the flags of those places, click here.

Your assignment, if you accept it, is to peruse the list and tell us in the comments which flag you like best, and why.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

But what about Minnehaha Falls?

Now you know how to say “Lake Superior” in the Ojibwe language (Gitchee Gumee, remember? -- literally Big Sea Water) . But in how many languages can you say “Thank you” without having to look it up?

I can say “Thank you” in 15 languages:

Thank you (English)
Gracias (Spanish)
Grazie (Italian)
Merci (French)
Obrigado (Portuguese)
Arigato (Japanese - ありがとう )
Farem nderet (Albanian)
Sheh sheh (Chinese - 謝謝 )
Tack (Swedish)
Tack (Norwegian)
Tak (Danish)
Dank u (Dutch)
Danke (German)
Spasebo (Russian - Cyrillic characters: спасибо )
Eucharisto (Greek - Greek characters: ευχαριστώ )

My accomplishment may sound impressive, but it pales into insignificance when you consider that the Ethnologue lists 7,102 languages spoken on planet Earth today.

Among the Creek and Seminole native American tribes of the southeastern U.S., “Big water” was not Gitchi Gumee but Okeechobee. How convenient, as it would have been embarrassing to Floridians to have to refer to Lake Okeechobee (which covers 730 square miles and has a maximum depth of 12 feet) as Lake Superior (which covers 31,400 square miles and has a maximum depth of 1,332 feet) . According to our old friend Wikipedia, the name Okeechobee comes from the Hitchiti words oki (water) and chubi (big) , but the oldest known name for the lake, reported by Hernando de Escalante Fontaneda in the 16th century, was -- would you believe it? -- Mayaimi (which also means -- I kid you not -- “big water”) .

Another Native American word I like is Apalachicola, which is not a carbonated beverage enjoyed by people living in the mountains of Kentucky and West Virginia. It means “the people on the other side of the river” and could be used by people in Yorkshire and Lancashire to refer to one another if only the Pennines were a river instead of a mountain range.


(Used in accordance with CC-BY-SA 3.0)

Friday, April 17, 2015

A - You’re Adorable; B - You’re so Beautiful; C - You’re a Cutie full of Charms; D - All of the above; E - None of the above

The time has come the walrus said to give you the answers to the quiz in my previous post. Here goes:

1. C. Ginkgo Biloba is a tree.

2. C. Garcinia Cambogia is a tree.

3. Both A and C. “By the Shores of Gitchee Gumee” is both a line from a famous poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and a satirical novel by Tama Janowitz about the Slivenowiczes, a trailer park trash family, etc.

4. It should be obvious that Hiawatha wore a toupee to keep his wigwam.

5. A, B, and C are all written in trochaic tetrameter. A is from “The Song of Hiawatha” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow; B is from “San Francisco” (a parody by James Linen, circa 1865) ; C is from “Hiawatha’s Photographing” (an 1869 parody by Lewis Carroll, who introduced it with an entire paragraph written in trochaic tetrameter without the line breaks a poem would have: “In an age of imitation, I can claim no special merit for this slight attempt at doing what is known to be so easy. Any fairly practised writer, with the slightest ear for rhythm, could compose, for hours together, in the easy running metre of ‘The Song of Hiawatha.’ Having, then, distinctly stated that I challenge no attention in the following little poem to its merely verbal jingle, I must beg the candid reader to confine his criticism to its treatment of the subject.”)

The following is from yet another parody of Longfellow’s poem entitled “The Modern Hiawatha” and attributed to George A. Strong:

He killed the noble Mudjokivis.
Of the skin he made him mittens,
Made them with the fur side inside,
Made them with the skin side outside.
He, to get the warm side inside,
Put the inside skin side outside.
He, to get the cold side outside,
Put the warm side fur side inside.
That’s why he put the fur side inside,
Why he put the skin side outside,
Why he turned them inside outside.

6. The correct answer is “None of the above” because the actor is Sean Penn, the English explorer is William Penn, and Phnom Penh is a city in Cambodia, not Cambogia. It is always wiser to read carefully and not assume that I made a typographical error and meant Cambodia. The fact that “None of the above” was not one of the choices is irrelevant. You were not told that the list was exhaustive.

7. False. It is true that most geckos cannot blink, but they often lick their eyes to keep them clean and moist. As far as I know, this is not true of the ginkgo, which is -- all together, class -- a tree.

Thank you for participating or not participating. There was no theme, trick, or ulterior motive to my quiz. I presented it to you only because April Fools Day somehow slipped past us uncelebrated. Better late than never.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Trochaic tetrameter, or How I Stopped Worrying And Learned To Love Blogging

Here is an April quiz for you. It is not a quiz about April; it is a quiz in April. Though April quizzes may come your way, they bring the diplomas that bloom in May:

1. Ginkgo Biloba is (A) a distant relative of the Spanish explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa; (B) a common lizard whose scientific classification is Kingdom Animalia, Phylum Chordata, Subphylum Vertebrata, Class Reptilia, Order Squamata, Suborder Gekkota, Family Gekkonidae, one Genus of which, Hemidactylus, includes about 90 different species, which are listed here; (C) a tree.

2. Garcinia Cambogia is (A) a suburb of Phnom Penh; (B) the former president of Argentina; (C) a tree.

3. “By the Shores of Gitchee Gumee” is (A) a line of a famous poem by Henry Wadworth Longfellow; (B) the opening line of an oath made famous during the time of Oliver Cromwell (“By the shores of Gitchee Gumee, by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin, by all that is holy, curfew shall not ring tonight.”) ; (C) a satirical novel by Tama Janowitz about the Slivenowiczes, a trailer park trash family who are forced to leave their home in a polluted swamp area in upstate New York (as Maud claims on p. 194 of the hardcover version) and who beg, steal and borrow their way across the United States until they end up in Hollywood. The characters’ hyper-intelligent witty repartee, reminiscent of New Yorkers in a Tama Janowitz novel, highlights the tragedy of the family’s social and economic descent. The first person narrator of the novel is 19-year-old Maud Slivenowicz, whose major source of knowledge is Reader’s Digest. Her mother, Evangeline, has five children by five different deadbeat fathers. Without a regular income, the Slivenowicz family dream of becoming movie stars, and at the end of the book it seems one of Maud’s brothers might actually be given a role in a television commercial.

4. Speaking of the shores of Gitche Gumee, why did Hiawatha wear a toupee?

5. Which of the following is an example of trochaic tetrameter?

A.
By the shores of Gitche Gumee,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
Stood the wigwam of Nokomis,
Daughter of the Moon, Nokomis.
Dark behind it rose the forest,
Rose the black and gloomy pine-trees,
Rose the firs with cones upon them;
Bright before it beat the water,
Beat the clear and sunny water,
Beat the shining Big-Sea-Water.

B.
Not far from the great Pacific,
Snug within the Gate called Golden,
By the Hill called Telegraph,
Near the Mission of Dolores,
Close by the Valley of St. Ann’s,
San Francisco rears its mansions,
Rears its palaces and churches;
Built of timber, bricks, and mortar,
Built on hills and built in valleys,
Built in Beelzebubbian splendor,
Stands the city San Francisco.

C.
From his shoulder Hiawatha
Took the camera of rosewood,
Made of sliding, folding rosewood;
Neatly put it all together.
In its case it lay compactly,
Folded into nearly nothing;
But he opened out the hinges
Till it looked all squares and oblongs,
Like a complicated figure
In the Second Book of Euclid.

6. Phnom Penh is (A) the sister of actor Sean Penh; (B) the five times great-granddaughter of English explorer William Penh, who invented Quaker State Motor Oil; (C) a city in Cambogia.

7. True or false: Most ginkgos cannot blink, but they often lick their eyes to keep them clean and moist.

Look for answers in my next post.

Monday, April 13, 2015

“You are old, Father William,” the young man said...

Here, in descending order by their age upon becoming president, are the 44 individuals who have been president of the United States:

Ronald Reagan 69
William Henry Harrison 68
James Buchanan 65
Zachary Taylor 64
George Herbert Walker Bush 64
Dwight D. Eisenhower 62
John Adams 61
Andrew Jackson 61
Gerald R. Ford 61
Harry S. Truman 60
James Monroe 58
George Washington 57
Thomas Jefferson 57
James Madison 57
John Quincy Adams 57
Andrew Johnson 56
Grover Cleveland (2) 56
Woodrow Wilson 56
Richard M. Nixon 56
Benjamin Harrison 55
Warren G. Harding 55
Lyndon Johnson 55
George Walker Bush 55
Martin Van Buren 54
Rutherford B. Hayes 54
William McKinley 54
Herbert Hoover 54
Abraham Lincoln 52
James Earl “Jimmy” Carter 52
John Tyler 51
William Howard Taft 51
Calvin Coolidge 51
Franklin D. Roosevelt 51
Millard Fillmore 50
Chester A. Arthur 50
James K. Polk 49
James A. Garfield 49
Franklin Pierce 48
Grover Cleveland (1) 47
Barack Obama 47
Ulysses S. Grant 46
William Jefferson “Bill” Clinton 46
John F. Kennedy 43
Theodore Roosevelt 42

[Note. Because Grover Cleveland served two non-consecutive terms as president, he is listed twice. --RWP]

“So what?” you say. Ho hum. Big yawn.

Perhaps you will find the following interesting.

Here is the current crop of candidates who have formally announced that they want to become president and the ages they will be on election day in November 2016:

Former New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D, NY) 69
Texas Senator Rafael Edward “Ted” Cruz (R, TX) 45
Kentucky Senator Rand Paul (R, KY) 53
Florida Senator Marco Rubio (R, FL) 45

There are still others whose names are being mentioned as possible candidates:

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren (D, MA) 67
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R, NJ) 54
Former Florida Governer John Ellis “Jeb” Bush (R, FL) 53
Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan (R, WI) 53
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal (R, LA) 45
Retired neurosurgeon Dr. Benjamin Carson (R) 65
Former CEO of Hewlett-Packard Carly Fiorina (R, CA) 62
Businessman Donald Trump (I kid you not) (R, NY) 70

There may be still others who will rise to prominence, but since I don’t know who they are, I cannot tell you their ages.

Is age important? Perhaps. Perhaps not. I’ve heard that experience is the best teacher, but it probably depends on just what experiences one has had. Some people never learn. For every proverb, there is an opposite proverb, as in (1) Absence makes the heart grow fonder and (2) Out of sight, out of mind.

One of the current presidential candidates said (not about age but about a completely different topic) , “At this point, what difference does it make?”

Perhaps none. Perhaps a great deal.

Another of the current candidates says, “This is not about yesterday. This is about tomorrow.”

Friday, April 10, 2015

Today is Mama’s birthday

She would have been 105. Unfortunately, she died at the age of 47 back in 1957.

I thought I would pop over to The Writer’s Almanac website and read about things of interest to writers that occurred on April 10th in history. Turns out that the first law in the world regulating copyright was issued in Great Britain in 1710, The Great Gatsby was published in 1925, William Hazlett was born in 1778, Anne Lamott was born in 1954, and Paul Theroux was born in 1941.

Here are some things writers have said about writing:

“Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig.” —Stephen Greenblatt

“I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham

“The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer

“I think all writing is a disease. You can’t stop it.” —William Carlos Williams

“Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow

“A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann

I discovered a new poet -- new to me, anyway -- at that website. Mary K. Stillwell and I have two things in common, it seems. She is a Texan (at least I think she is a Texan, her poetry having been published by Stephen F. Austin State University Press) and she has lived in Nebraska. I lived in Nebraska in the 1960s when I was stationed at the underground command post at Strategic Air Command Headquarters. She, on the other hand, went to Nebraska to be a university professor, subsequently wrote the first-ever autobiography biography of former U.S. poet laureate Ted Kooser (The Life and Poetry of Ted Kooser) , and recently published a volume of her own poetry.

Although hers is not the sort of poetry that Yorkshire Pudding typically likes, I am going to include a link to two of her poems that have appeared at Writer’s Almanac anyway. The poems are “Moving to Malibu” and “In the Morning in Morocco” (both are from her collection Maps and Destinations) .

Click here to read the two poems.

When I read those poems, one phrase just jumped out at me. It was in the Malibu poem: “I will be as content and as happy as Balboa.”

Really? How does she know how happy Balboa was? More to the point, was Balboa happy? I did know, in that endearing way I know lots of trivia, that Balboa was the first European to see the Pacific Ocean after he crossed the isthmus of Panama in 1513, the same year Ponce de Leon discovered Florida.

I don’t know why I remember such things. I just do. On the other hand, there are probably a lot of things I ought to remember that I just don’t.

Hurrying along, let us now examine this article about the Spanish explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa carefully to see if we can ascertain just how content and happy he was.

Did you read it?

My conclusion, after reading that article very carefully, is: not very.

But let us assume that Ms. Stillwell knows whereof she speaks and that Señor Balboa was deliriously happy.

Do you know what would make me even happier than that?

If I could tell Mama “Happy Birthday!” one more time.


Thursday, April 9, 2015

If you encountered a file called “Carriage with horses” wouldn’t you expect to see...

this?



or this?

or perhaps even this?

When I encountered a file called “Carriage with horses” I didn’t see any of those. I saw this:

(Used in accordance with CC-BY-SA-2.0)

One has to look very closely to find the ear and neck of one black member of subspecies Equus ferus caballus. One. Singular. Horse, not horses. The only thing plural in that photograph are members of the royal family, and I for one thought it was rather rude to refer to the Queen, the Prince of Wales, and the Duchess of Cornwall (whose chapeau brings to mind the late Queen Mother) in that way. Even allowing for the late Joan Rivers’s unkind impression of the Princess Royal, “Carriage with horses” is a definite misnomer.

If you don’t believe that such a file exists, click here.

After examining that photograph in detail, however, I concluded that there must not be a bare head in all of England. Makers of hats and helmets will never go hungry in the U.K.